Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) in children. Does it matter? (3 min read)

Author: Belinda Martin, Accredited Practising Dietitian | PAEDIATRIC NUTRITION

If you follow us on social media, you might know that my gorgeous little guy had to have his tonsils and adenoids out due to obstructive sleep apnoea or OSA just under 2 years ago. This post generated a lot of interest, so we thought we would repost it for your information.

My little one had just turned 3 years old and had some clear signs and symptoms of OSA. But when I was chatting to family and friends about it, it occurred to me that not many people are aware of the signs of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) in children or the impact it can have.

Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) in children usually occurs due to large tonsils and adenoids blocking the airway. If left untreated, a child with OSA may be developmentally delayed and in the long term OSA may cause heart problems and high blood pressure.

So, if your child has any of the following, ask your GP to investigate further and refer to an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) Specialist. Some of these signs might be subtle so trust your gut- mum (and dad) instinct knows best.

  1. Loud snoring particularly if he or she is gasping for air and/or has pauses in breathing, or sounds like he/she is choking or snorting
  2. Sweating excessively during sleep
  3. Mouth breathing during sleep and often sleeping with head tilted back
  4. Always tired and sleeping longer than other kids, perhaps even complaining of a headache in the mornings
  5. Excessive drooling and/or bad breath
  6. Poor articulation of words
  7. Difficulty swallowing- in our experience as dietitians we often notice children with suspected OSA will not eat red meat
  8. Sometimes the only sign of OSA is behavioural issues or difficulty paying attention. Sometimes the child may be going down the route of unnecessarily being diagnosed with ADHD.

My little one was snoring loudly and gasping for air, was excessively tired and having very long day time naps, wouldn’t eat red meat, and had difficulty paying attention (which hey, could have just been a toddler thing) so I thought I’d get him checked. And yep his tonsils were HUGE!

Obviously having his tonsils and adenoids out wasn’t much fun but it was worth it.

Our gorgeous little man’s sleep drastically improved after the surgery and he now sleeps through the night (except when there are monsters in his room of course- but we have monster spray so that fixes that!) and his breathing is so quiet – I’m probably up more checking that he is actually breathing! He is breathing and he is definitely getting more oxygen to his brain.

Some other things I noticed after the surgery;

  1. He was not so tired all the time – something I’ve noticed more now than I did at the time
  2. He didn’t suddenly start eating red meat – it’s a strong flavour for some kids to get used to – but he gradually started to include things like beef sausages and meatballs and was happier to eat chicken and pork, so happy about that
  3. His appetite was always pretty good beforehand for most of the day except when it was dinner time – again normal toddler behaviour. BUT after the surgery he ate much larger portions and he started to come to the dinner table much easier and more than before.
  4. His sentence structure and speech in general was SO MUCH BETTER. I hadn’t realised that I could understand him perfectly but not everyone could.
  5. His behaviour and ability to pay attention was better.

It wasn’t a walk in the park to have the surgery. It’s awful seeing your little one’s eyes roll as they go under anaesthetic and it wasn’t nice seeing him skip into the hospital, teddy in tow not fully aware of what was about to happen. Plus, we had the added stress of him not taking the medication. He refused, clamped his mouth shut, spat it out and ran away from us, so Panadol suppositories did the trick. If your little one has to have their tonsils and/or adenoids out, as a parent just be prepared for very little sleep for about one week and lots of cuddles (the rocking type).

His voice was also a bit strange for a while but now back to normal. It probably took about 6 weeks for him to fully recover. Like I said we are so glad we had it done.

Large tonsils and adenoids will often impact a child’s dietary intake and maybe the underlying cause of picky eating.  As dietitians we often see signs of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) in children. During our assessment, we will ask about your child’s diet, mealtimes and their sleep patterns. If we suspect OSA, we will recommend a referral to a Paediatric ENT specialist.  If you are at all concerned about your child’s diet, come and see us. We are experienced and we can help you.

About the Author

Belinda Martin is a Perth Dietitian specialising in paediatric nutrition, infant nutrition, allergies and pregnancy nutrition. She is the co-founder of Advanced Dietitians Group and loves working with people and families. She has been a dietitian for 20 years. She has worked as a Senior Dietitian and Paediatric Dietitian in various teaching hospitals in Western Australia and the United Kingdom. When she is not working, she is trying to tame a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old (and a 40+ year old) at home.

About Advanced Dietitians Group

Advanced Dietitians Group was founded in 2014 by Belinda Martin and Ingrid Roche, Perth dietitians with a combination of over 40 years’ experience in the industry. Both dietitians have a range of experience across the lifespan but specialise in paediatric nutrition, pregnancy nutrition, infant nutrition and allergies. They provide up to date evidence-based nutrition advice. This coupled with their wealth of experience in dietetics ensures you get the best possible nutrition service. They get a buzz out of helping their clients and their families.

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